Comment: With a little more than 30 days until Hamilton's new city council representatives will be known, there is still much more campaigning to be done, candidate debates and election meet and greet events. Hamilton News reporter Tom Rowland casts his eye over the next few weeks of activity.
Social media is running hot with election discussion and opinion and you would be hard pressed to find a street in the city without an election sign.
Since Angela O'Leary's early mayoralty bid announcement at the start of the year, the election period has been filled with controversy, questions over the voting system and candidate meetings – and a Jack Gielen rap.
While Hamilton's eight mayoralty candidates have been given plenty of stage time to express their views, including a $15,000 Hamilton City Council hosted debate, the other 33 candidates have been left with only a handful of meet the candidate events, a point east ward candidate Anna Smart targeted in a recent Facebook post.
She said candidates would be given the chance to set up a stand at the council-hosted debate, but that they would also be competing with council's own information booths.
"What we are constantly hearing is council candidates are great and please come along to our events but we don't have enough time to entertain all the candidates," Smart said.
It raises questions on what can be done to get voters more involved with candidates, and whether it is on council to give more support to increase voter turnout, or candidates to carry on with door knocking.
Hamilton's voter turnout for the 2016 elections was just over 30 per cent, and was the lowest of New Zealand's major urban centres.
While a mayor may lead the the council, decisions still need support from the 12 other elected members and hearing from the candidates is as equally as important as hearing from a potential mayor.
Waikato Chamber of Commerce has announced a mayoralty debate, although only four of the potential eight candidates will be invited, which will be decided via a landline-based poll.
Intermediate netball finals and prize giving
While this offers more time for those four candidates to have their say, Hamilton's mayoralty field this year has well over four candidates, meaning someone will miss out a chance to have their say against their rivals.
The way residents vote in local Government elections has also been brought into question, with one Hamilton resident Judy McDonald calling the current postal voting service out of date and unreliable.
An attempt to bring in online voting for this year's election was made earlier by council, but central Government was not ready to act. Whether online voting is the saving grace needed is a question that remains to be answered.
In a recent Hamilton City Council quality of life survey, it seems Hamiltonians have started to care less about local government, with only 26 per cent having confidence that the council is making decisions in the best interest of the city, while only 30 per cent perceive that the public has an influence over the decisions council makes.
The current council made some tough decisions over the last three years, included a 9.7 per cent rates increase, while the decision to continue to purchase central city properties — despite an overwhelmingly negative response to the idea — also shook public trust.
A large number of non-voters are the 18-28 demographic, and while we have seen a rise in youth protests around climate change, there are still concerns that younger voters are not making their voices heard.
A survey conducted this year by Seed Waikato said only 5 per cent of people aged 15-35 felt listened to by local councils and that an overwhelming 80 per cent of young people felt disconnected from local councils. An even more concerning point was the finding that 41 per cent of young people did not even know how to vote in the local elections.
While issues like climate change have made youth more aware of the decisions council can make to combat change, more must be down at a school and university level to help young voters through the process of how voting works.
The latest issue that has been raised has been whether candidates are being open enough in their campaigning.
A spat started by councillor Geoff Taylor saying that Siggi Henry was failing to identify as an anti-vaxxer and anti-fluoride made headlines last week.
In the official voting booklets from council, each candidates has only 150 words to tell people why to vote for them so it is on the voters' to take the time to find out more on the candidates they are voting for, and not just rely on the material provided to them.
Voting papers will be sent out from September 20, closing at 12pm on October 12. Special voting papers can be picked up from the Hamilton City Council building in Garden Place or by calling 0800 922 822.